Greater Gain

The Gospel of Luke  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:33
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Have you recently committed to something that you know is going to be grueling work but consider that the sacrifice and endurance will be worth it, perhaps worth it now in its benefit to your character and health, and especially worth it because of the result in the end?
We call that kind of incentive a positive motivation. To use this as an illustration of our point today, we should add this negative motivation as well: If you don’t do it, you’ll die.
That’s an important overall context to keep in mind as we hear Jesus describe the high cost of discipleship. You’ll see, I believe, and perhaps you are already beginning to, as we unfold vv. 24-26 especially, why that opening metaphor is a relevant picture of the Christian life.
To get us there, we need to remind ourselves of the essence of verse 23. What does Jesus call us to if we confess him as Lord, claiming to be his disciples? He gave his life for you, and you respond by giving your life to him.

Take Up Your Cross

We explained last time what Jesus means when he tells us that following him requires self-denial and taking up our metaphorical cross. It means that if anyone should claim to confess Jesus as Lord (bc you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, Rom. 10:9), that means you are in essence denying yourself and submitting to God, which you must also continue to do as evidence of the sincerity of your profession. Furthermore, denying self and submitting to God also entails being ready and willing to suffer rejection from the world and to sacrifice your own comfort and short-term benefit (temporal, earthly benefit) for the good of others to the glory of God.
We also worked hard to be clear that Jesus took this image of cross-bearing, which seems so negative, and made it a positive illustration of the Christian life. Taking up our cross daily to follow Jesus is a thing of beauty, not of tragedy. That is precisely because Jesus already walked this road, bearing the cross and its shame, willingly sacrificing himself for your sin, and rising again to complete the effect, conquering sin and death… And he did so once for all. That means you do not bear the cross on a one-way trip stumbling to your doom, but you bear the cross with joy and peace and rest and comfort and courage and strength. You bear the cross as a means to be like Jesus and to reveal Jesus to the world—the rebellious ones who, like yourself, are the very reason Jesus died and rose again.
Bearing the cross is an image of beauty, not of tragedy. But the image still bears the marks of great difficulty, of submission and suffering and sacrifice. It does in fact mean self-denial and submission to God, readiness to suffer and to sacrifice for something greater. Aha!… therein lies the rub for today.


Why would anyone willingly take this kind of approach to life, knowing what it entails? And what could be greater (for any human in this life) than gaining the whole world?
Why would I confess Jesus as Lord if it doesn’t just mean riding his coattails into heaven while I go on living however I want? Why would I follow Jesus in submission to God that requires self-denial, rejection, suffering, and sacrifice? - First of all, it’s the only true Christian life.

This is the only Christian life.

Anything else is falsehood and fiction. If you aren’t willing to live the Christian life like this, then you are not in Christ.
Jesus doesn’t offer any alternative. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by Him. And Jesus says, this is what that looks like.
You cannot merely tinker with the whole Jesus thing. You’re either in—all in—or you’re out. And you can’t get in via someone else’s commitment to Jesus. There are only first generation sons of God, only individually conscripted soldiers of this King.
Except for the simple command “follow me,” this quote from Jesus (in v. 24) is the most repeated of his sayings in the Gospels. It’s of central importance: “Whoever would (try/aim) to save his (own) life (in this world) will lose it, but whoever loses it for my sake will save it.”
Jesus is saying, if you lead a self-centered life focused on the present world, if you try to earn rightness with God by your own efforts, you will not find eternal life with God. You will lose it.
Conversely, whoever gives up a self-centered life of rebellion against God (loses his life) is giving his life to God, submitting to the gospel of Jesus, and will be given eternal restoration to God (will save it).
Indeed, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself” (or “his own soul” - the wording of Mk 8:36)? - The plain answer is, it profits him nothing!
Bill Gates, in my estimation, has reached the height of human achievement in the eyes of the world. He has grown an insane amount of wealth, and even while he has recently slipped into third place in financial net worth (behind Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Elon Musk of Tesla), he still towers high in the world’s estimation because of his philanthropy (that’s just a big word for giving and doing things with your money for the good of others). Ironically, even the world recognizes the goodness of doing good to others. And we might rightly say, for now and in that specific regard, “Well done, Bill.”
BUT, Jesus says… When Bill Gates stands before God, what will he have, if he has not repented of sinful man-centeredness and turned to God through faith in Jesus? Such men are the cautionary tale. As far as we know, it isn’t yet too late for Bill Gates, but many men and women have gone before, amassing wealth and pleasure and notoriety and power and influence… even doing good deeds to their fellow man.
And yet, “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26b in the same context) - Answer: nothing. What can you offer God from your own efforts? Nothing. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Rom. 3:10)
Romans 3:10 ESV
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
Because of our sinful ways into which we are born, even “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Is. 64:6).
Isaiah 64:6 ESV
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
And (also in Is. 64:6) before the righteousness of God “we all wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind.” - From recently experiencing fall in the Ozarks, we ought to be able to picture our lives as a withering leaf that is blown away with the wind.
We require intervention from God himself. That’s why Jesus had to become the perfect sacrifice and die for sin, and then rise again to save you by his merit, not your own.
The point is, you cannot save your own soul by gaining even the whole world, nor even by doing untold good in it. No good will ever be good enough. God requires perfect cleansing from sin in order to welcome you into his holy presence. It’s no use complaining about that, either. You can no more alter the holiness of God than you can remove a tiger’s stripes. Holy is who God is, completely unique in perfect purity and power and knowledge.
What we need is for God to intervene on our behalf. And that’s precisely what he has done through Jesus… and he accomplished salvation in a way that we would not have chosen nor anticipated, but in a way that accomplished what is required for sin to be punished, and for perfection and spiritual life to be attained for us.
The world looks at the cross of Jesus and sees a tragic shame. And then they mock the cross of Christ and try to shame anyone who would believe that a good God could sacrifice his only Son in order to rescue sinful men. But that very act proves the love and the holiness of God… and the perfect plan of God, because Jesus didn’t stay dead! No, he rose again in power so that in him we can have his perfect righteousness, a spiritual life that restores us in relationship to God. Those drawn to God see the cross of Christ as beautiful and perfect.
But from the world, there is shame associated with following Jesus. - So Jesus says in v. 26 that if you think the shame of his cross is too much and you are not willing to bear it... If you are not willing to accept that he had to do what he said (be rejected and die and be raised), and that such is precisely what took place because you needed him to do it, then you can’t be one of his own. - If you are ashamed of Jesus in this life, then he will be ashamed of you when he comes back in glory.
And there’s no use complaining that the shame of Christ is our cross to bear. There is no shame in that cross; it is the very reason that you have been made right with God. Do not let the world shame you into submission. (and they will try!!!) The only shame you need be concerned about is in the eyes of God. By remaining unashamed of the suffering Christ, you know that God has already removed your guilt and shame by the death and resurrection of this very same Jesus!
Therefore, Jesus warns, if you think you can save your life by running from the shame of the cross, if you think you can find some other way to earn favor with God, you have missed the plain truth that without the cross of Christ you are already condemned for your sin, hurdling headlong into destruction—eternal separation from God.
And if you think you can have it all, admire what Jesus did on a cross for you and still seek what the world offers, you will reach the end to find Jesus saying you do not belong to him, you are not one of his own. Because HIS sheep listen to his voice, he knows them and they follow him. (…and see also v. 28 of Jn 10)
John 10:27–28 ESV
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
So if you didn’t really follow him, and he says he didn’t know you (Mt 7:23), that’s because you stubbornly refused to come to him on his terms. (Imagine Jesus returning and saying to you, I’m sorry that you did all that in your own effort supposedly in my name, but I never knew you. Depart from me. Imagine him saying, you never stopped loving the world to come to me on my terms. You are not one of my sheep.)
By Jesus God will judge the world. By Jesus God judges us. - Rejecting Jesus is the supreme act of rebellion against God. It is short-sighted, and it is worthy of condemnation. You are sealing your fate, and you should know that that is what you are doing. - This life is not yours to keep. It is God’s. He made you for himself. If you spend your life fighting to keep your life from God, you will discover at the judgment that you have lost everything.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. Here’s the bottom line: to effectively receive God’s grace in Jesus, you must fully and completely give up self-effort. You have to wholly and completely give up selfishly loving the world. God says, deny yourself and submit to me. My way, the only way, is the way of Jesus.
Jesus: I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that life is going to be a bed of roses and chocolate truffles, certainly not a life of following me. By and large, the world will reject your submission to God as backward and foolish, just as it did with me. But remember that there is only one Gospel, and I myself am that good news, and you have been graciously rescued and brought into the knowledge of the truth—from darkness to light, from enemies of God to daughters of God.
Jesus is indeed saying that following him is a hard calling that comes at high cost. But following him like this is the only Christian life. That’s a pretty good reason why, if you ask me: if you don’t do this, you will die.
If that was all Jesus every said on the subject, the Christian life might seem pretty bleak. But such isn’t the case. Before we close today, I want to be sure you recognize the flip side of this truth.
So let’s end where we started, to see a positive motivation for why. You don’t want to miss this:

We give up self and the world for greater gain.

There is present and future benefit of doing life the hard (but right) way... Jesus’ way.
What could be greater (for any human in this life) than gaining the whole world? Answer: Gaining God. - Gaining God means for us two intertwined realities: abundant life now, and eternal security for the future. - We trust in God through Jesus Christ, giving up all selfish gain and all self-effort to please him, because we recognize that God offers more. What he offers is better: himself. Through Jesus we are given abundant life in God now, and eternal security for future glory with him.
Jesus said in v. 24 that whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. - Jesus: Following me like this will prove the sincerity of your believing confession (that I am Christ, the Lord), that by giving up your life to God you will in fact gain spiritual life in God, and it will result in abundant life now and in future glory.
In a context where Jesus is talking about being the only gate of entrance for his sheep, and about himself being the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, he says in John 10:10
John 10:10 ESV
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
What is an abundant life? - The height of human existence is to know that God has you, and therefore you have God. - The Bible promises you that there in no higher gain in this life and eternity than to be found in Jesus (Php 3:8-9), not greater joy than to hear God say “Well done… Enter into the joy of your Master.” (Mt 25:21,23).
Notice that as part of his warning in v. 26 Jesus says that he is coming back “in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” In other words, the glory of God far exceeds any earthly glory. This is the glory of the resurrected Son of Man, the glory of the Father, the glory of the hosts of heaven who are faithful to continually glorify God. When Jesus comes back, there’ll be no mistaking that glory. We don’t know the time or the season with any certainty, but there’ll be no mistaking it when it happens!
So if we are God’s children, co-heirs with Jesus, then we prove it by suffering with Him, and will therefore also be glorified with Him:
Romans 8:16–18 ESV
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
So as you bear the pain of suffering with Jesus in this life, remember that for both now and eternity you do it for greater gain. This is the abundant life: to know that God has you as his own, to live life in light of what Christ has accomplished for you, and to look forward with certainty to the finish line when the glory of God will be fully revealed.
Hebrews 12:1b–3 ESV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
So as you bear the cross of Christ, beautiful in your sight but shameful and foolish to the world, in this endurance race we call life, do not grow weary and lose sight of the Savior.
Keep your eyes on the Teacher; focus your mind on the end goal. Know that God already has you as his own. Christ is your master. The Spirit lives in you. Through faith in Jesus God has granted you the highest gain for humanity: He has graciously restored you to himself. That is what you already have, and you look forward to a more complete revelation of his unsurpassed glory at the finish line.
PRAY: Father, we thank you and we praise you for revealing in your Word (by the Holy Spirit) that we must deny self and take up our cross to follow Jesus, which is the only way. There is no other Christian life. But we do so gladly, to gain what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf: your presence and pleasure both now and forever. When he returns (or you take us home), may our Savior find us pursuing you and your glory with our crosses held high. Receive all the glory even now in our hearts, God, for rescuing us and making us your own. Amen.
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